By Kathryn O'Neill
Two senior executives recently joined fellows in MIT's System Design and Management Program (SDM) for a question-and-answer session on entrepreneurial and corporate leadership. According to George Schu, senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, and Mark Walcott, president of TransGlobal Business Systems, a clear vision, ably communicated, is critical to leading any business successfully.
"I believe leadership comes from an amalgam of qualities," said Walcott, whose company provides information-sharing solutions for public safety, homeland security, and private industry clients. "Good leaders essentially have the community's interest at heart; they have a clear message and they provide hope for people."
Schu agreed. "You inspire innovation as a leader by helping people realize a vision," he said. "As a leader, I take a lot of interest in helping young innovators."
The two speakers fielded a long list of questions from fellows during a March 9, 2011, lunch at the MIT Faculty Club, tackling topics ranging from "What percent of your time is spent on innovation?" to "Are leaders born or made?"
Walcott answered the former question by saying innovation must always be a priority. "You don't ever look away. You structure your internal organization to look at both [innovation and day-to-day issues] at the same time," he said.
Schu responded to the latter by saying that leaders are both born and made. "Leadership is impossible without experience," he said, noting one way to build leadership in organizations is through mentoring. "I spend a lot of time mentoring people—very junior people," Schu said. "I believe that a very important element of leadership is to listen—not to be the one speaking all the time.... Good ideas do not flow from the top exclusively. Smart leaders embrace others' ideas."
Walcott said that leaders must communicate their vision clearly in order to inspire people to realize the goals of the business. Both he and Schu agreed that good communication can also be the best defense when facing pushback in implementing new ideas. Schu said that it is possible to change people's minds through clear communication, project piloting, and good metrics.
Walcott said he challenges employees to come up with a better solution if they don't like a proposed plan. "I'm a firm believer that success is always tied to the people who support you."
Schu agreed. "People are the most important resource," he said. "You need to be able to recognize talent, train talent, and give them a path forward."
This panel session with George Schu of Booz Allen Hamilton and Mark Walcott of TransGlobal Business Systems was a highlight of SDM's spring "business trip," a week-long event held each semester that brings on- and off-campus SDM fellows together at MIT for lectures, presentations, classes, and workshops.
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